From June 18-24, 2004 Issue

Preventing shaken baby syndrome

from the Department of Health and Family Services

MADISON In response to the death of Menasha infant from complications due to Shaken Baby Syndrome, Children's Trust Fund Executive Director Mary Anne Snyder and Department of Health and Family Services Secretary Helene Nelson have put out a call to action to the public.

"Never shake a baby!" Snyder said. "The message can't be any clearer. Yet we continue to see these tragic incidents."

"We seek everyone's help in preventing this deadly form of child abuse," Nelson said. She noted that Wisconsin has recently experienced a series of shaken-baby incidents: Four cases were reported in May, and two shaken babies have died this year.

According to the National Shaken Baby Alliance, some 25 percent of shaken babies die. The majority of the survivors have moderate-to-severe long-term disabilities. They may suffer from a variety of related conditions and injuries, including permanent brain damage, blindness, deafness, paralysis, and severe learning disabilities. Some can enter a permanent vegetative state.

"At least one baby is shaken every week in Wisconsin," Snyder said. "Shaken Baby Syndrome may occur when a child is shaken for any reason and for any period of time."

Snyder explained that tired parents or caregivers sometimes struggle to cope with a young child's crying or need for attention. In frustration, without knowing the dangers, they may shake a baby or small child to get its attention or to make it stop crying. When a child is shaken, the head whips back and forth, slamming the fragile brain tissue against the hard skull, causing bruising, bleeding, and swelling inside the brain. She said the average age of infants who are shaken is 2 to 4 months, but that Shaken Baby Syndrome has been identified as a cause of head trauma in children up to 5 years of age.

To reduce the incidence of Shaken Baby Syndrome in Wisconsin, the Children's Trust Fund supports the Early Outreach Shaken Baby Prevention Program operated by the Child Protection Center of the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. In its third year, the Milwaukee-based program hopes to expand to all 105 birthing hospitals in 58 Wisconsin counties by  spring 2005. This is the only prevention program in Wisconsin that works with birthing hospitals to educate parents of newborns about Shaken Baby Syndrome, Snyder said.

Since 1995, the average number of children with severe abusive head injury at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin has been from 15 to 16 a year, with about three fatalities per year. In 2001, however, the hospital saw a disturbing increase of Shaken Baby Syndrome cases. The Child Protection Center staff at the hospital evaluated 26 cases of severe abusive head injury. Six of the children died.

"The costs to treat Shaken Baby Syndrome are staggering," said Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, medical director of the Child Protection Center. "The emergency care for each of the 26 children treated in 2001 at Children's Hospital ranged from $42,140 to $276,373.

"A victim of severe brain injury typically faces a minimum of five to 10 years of intensive services with costs estimated in excess of $4 million," said Dr. Greenbaum, who is also a member of the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, which oversees the Children's Trust Fund.

Last year, the Child Protection Center saw about 18 cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome. The Early Outreach Shaken Baby Prevention Program targets parents attending prenatal classes and mothers delivering infants in birthing hospitals. While recuperating, mothers view a video about Shaken Baby Syndrome, receive the Children's Trust Fund's "Never Shake a Baby" brochure, and learn how to care for crying infants.

"Shaken Baby Syndrome is so tragic and so entirely preventable," Dr. Greenbaum said, agreeing with Snyder and Nelson that "we need to get the word out."

Snyder recommends the following ways to prevent Shaken Baby Syndromey:

Know what to do when a baby or child cries. If you become stressed, frustrated, or angry, put the child in a safe place, such as a crib or playpen, and walk away until you are calm.

Make sure that everyone who cares for your child knows about the dangers of shaking. This includes friends, relatives, babysitters, child-care providers, brothers, and sisters, especially anyone who has had little or no experience caring for babies or young children.

Be mindful of who is watching your baby in your absence. An Ohio study found that that 25 to 50 percent of the American public does not know it is dangerous to shake a baby or young child. People who shake children hard are most likely to be men in their early 20s.

Play gently with a baby. Never throw or toss a baby in the air, swing a baby by the ankles, or jog with a young infant on your back.

To learn more about Shaken Baby Syndrome and how to calm a crying infant, visit the Children's Trust Fund Web site at, or call, toll-free, 1-866-640-3936 and request the "Never Shake a Baby!" brochure or a Positive Parenting Kit. Both are free to parents in Wisconsin. Other organizations involved in preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome in Wisconsin are the Shaken Baby Association, the Child Abuse Prevention Fund of the Children's Hospital Health System, and Prevent Child Abuse Wisconsin.